Michigan Association of Health Plans

1 in 3 Parents May Be Unnecessarily Giving Children Fever-Reducing Medicine

This story appeared in Healthline. Read more here

A poll released today reached that conclusion based on 1,376 responses from parents of children ages 12 and under between August and September 2022.

The responses were gleaned from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan Health.

In their findings, the researchers reported the following:

  • The majority of parents recognize a low-grade fever helps a child’s body fight off infection.
  • Some parents may not be properly measuring fevers (i.e., they are using their palm or hand to “feel” for hot forehead rather than using a thermometer).
  • Half of parents may not realize different ways of measuring temperature can lead to different results (for infants and young children, rectal temperatures are most accurate).
  • A third of parents said they would give their children fever-reducing medication for spiked temperatures below 100.4 (which isn’t recommended).
  • Half of parents would give fever medication if a fever was between 100.4 and 101.9 degrees.
  • A quarter of parents would give another dose to prevent returning fever.“

“Often parents worry about their child having a fever and want to do all they can to reduce their temperature. However, they may not be aware that in general the main reason to treat a fever is just to keep their child comfortable,” said Dr. Susan Woolford, a pediatrician and the Mott Poll co-director, in a press release.

The study authors noted that while it’s clear some parents may immediately give their children medicine, it’s often better to let the fever run its course.

“Lowering a child’s temperature doesn’t typically help cure their illness any faster. In fact, a low-grade fever helps fight off the infection. There’s also the risk of giving too much medication when it’s not needed, which can have side effects,” said Woolford.

What experts have to say about children and medication

“As a pediatrician and parent, I am not surprised with the study findings,” said Dr, Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California.

“There is a growing dependency amongst many parents, oftentimes out of fear for their child’s health, to give medication for anything they consider a fever (any temperature above 98.6),” she told Healthline.

Dr. Edgar Navarro Garza, a pediatrician with Harbor Health, wasn’t surprised either.

“Talking from personal experience in my practice, typically, parents will be concerned about a ‘low-grade fever,’ but that is actually not considered an actual fever,” he told Healthline.

Dr. Daniel Ganjian, FAAP, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline that these are the same findings he sees with his patients.

The benefit of this research is that with knowledge can come changes, he noted.

“When we realize that we might be over-medicating our children, it will cause us to use less medications,” Ganjian said.

This is particularly important when there is a shortage of children’s fever-reducing medications, he added.

What parents need to know about reducing fever in children

The study authors provide several recommendations for reducing fever in children.

The suggestions included:

  • If you do use medicine, be careful about not overmedicating or combining medications (especially in young children).
  • Try alternatives to medicine for relieving a child’s discomfort.
  • Be aware of signs to call the doctor.

When to call a doctor

If you’re parenting a child under 4 months of age, any sign of fever is cause to call your healthcare provider or pediatrician.

For children 4 to 12 months, the study authors recommend parents consult with a doctor if a fever is accompanied by signs such as:

  • decreased activity
  • increased fussiness
  • decreased urine output (urinating less than average)
  • signs of pain
  • changes in behavior even when their fever is coming down
  • Any fevers that reach 104 degrees or fevers that remain for an extended period should prompt contact with their healthcare provider.

An extended period of fever is considered anything lasting more than 24 hours for children under 2 or more than three days for children ages 2 and older.

  back to blog